MYRTLE BEACH — The South Carolina Warriors are ready to get things going again.
The Warriors went 29-0 before losing to the Jacksonville Giants in the ABA finals in their inaugural season.
Now, the squad has new owners, a new head coach and some new players.
Local businessmen Leonard R. Watts and Marshall Biddle took over ownership and John Kefalas was promoted from assistant to head coach after Chris Beard left to pursue other coaching opportunities.
Becoming head coach was an opportunity Kefalas, a veteran who was an assistant at Coastal Carolina under Pete Strickland, couldn’t pass up.
“After the year, Chris went back to Texas and Marshall asked me if I wanted to coach,” Kefalas said. “I talked it over with my family, the kids called me and here I am today. I do it for these kids more than anything.
“As far as the transition, these are all college players. You’ll see in our games this year – I’m not a high-pressure guy. I believe in my players and I play off my players. We create a family atmosphere and I’m open-minded.”
Biddle said he and Watts saw the Warriors as an attractive community asset and decided to get involved. The squad will once again play at the Carolina Forest Recreation Center.
“[Leonard] and I put this together last year and the reason I got involved is because it’s a good thing for the community and that’s what’s going to make it successful,” Biddle said. “We’ve got a lot of things planned and we want to grow the exposure of these guys to the community and the community to us.
“It kind of clicked last year and coach Kefalas has been a big part of it. Without his leadership, I don’t think we would have gone down that road. He brings a lot to the table and that’s what we really needed here.”
The players have embraced Kefalas’ family-like environment.
“He is a great guy,” said Dustin Scott, one of six players returning from last year’s squad. “To all of us he is like a father figure. He treats us like his own kids. He invites us over to his house and whatever we need, he doesn’t want us to call this guy or that guy, he wants us to call him. He doesn’t want us to have our business out and stuff; he’s like our dad basically.”
Georgetown native Brendon Knox, Mike Vogler, former Hemingway High standout Pat Lewis, Kellen Brand and Marquise Gainous are the other returning players.
The team also added three former Jacksonville Giants in Tim Ware, Sherod Harris and Emanuel Jackson. Former college players LaShun Watson (South Alabama) and Matt Kendrick (Saint Leo) round out the roster.
“I really like our team. We have a few guys coming in from Jacksonville, the team that beat us in the championship, and they’re better players,” said Vogler, who will serve as a player-coach off the bench this year. “All the returning players – we have played a lot of minutes last year. Dustin, he left early to go overseas last year, he’s back … hopefully he won’t leave us this year. The main thing is that we have chemistry, which really helps. I’m really excited to get this year started.”
Amid all the changes, the players say the team is upbeat and already harmonizing.
“So far, since the first week I think we have a great group of guys that enjoys playing the game of basketball,” Scott said. “We work well together and play hard together while we’re on the court. Off the court, we laugh a lot with each other. Last year, we had some of that. But this year it’s way better, 10 times better. I think we have a phenomenal group of guys.”
The 6-foot-10 Knox, the only player on the squad with area ties, was one of Warriors’ few true big men a year ago. This year the Warriors have five players who are at least 6-foot-8 this year, and Knox expects that to have a big impact on the team’s chances to win a title this season.
“We’re pretty much bigger this year,” Knox said. “Last year we were kind of a small team and we still made it to the championship. I have high expectations, and if we don’t win the championship it will be a disappointment.”
Said Gainous: “I think we’re a lot bigger this year than last year so I think the height advantage will help us to get over that hump.
“Our main focus is to get over the next level and win the championship,” he added. “We have a few pieces that give us a good chance to win the championship.”
While winning is the main goal, Kefalas puts an emphasis on teaching team basketball and values that extend to off the court..
“You’re only and athlete so long,” Kefalas said. “Basketball is the last part. The character and commitment is what’s important to me. The old saying, ‘it’s not your best five players, it’s the five that play the best with each other’ – that’s what I do. We don’t have any superstars and no selfish guys. We run a great offense, one night it might be one guy and one night it might be another, but we win as a team.”
“As a team, we would like to win a championship,” Vogler said. “Anything less would be an unacceptable season. I’m not worried about individual accolades at all, as long as we win – I’ll be happy.”
Contact MAX McKINNON at 444-1767.